The following history of Fellowship Baptist Church is courtesy of Clay Ramsey. Clay is a frequent contributor to Historic Rural Churches. He will have a much deeper history of Fellowship in a subsequent issue of Georgia Backroads magazine that will be available soon.
Fellowship Progressive Primitive Baptist Church, located just outside of the little town of Shiloh, in Harris County, west-central Georgia, was constituted on November 14, 1839. Thomas A. Middlebrooks had set aside some land for a church when he bought property in the area in 1836. On this site, located eleven miles east of Hamilton, Creed Caldwell, minister at New Hope Primitive Baptist Church in Yatesville and Ephesus Church in Woodland, formed a clerical presbytery with Elders John B. Williams and John W. Turner and founded Fellowship with nine original members. They were thus accepted into the Upatoi Association of Baptists.
The written records that survive note their adoption of the Philadelphia Confession of 1742 as their statement of faith, and affirmation of beliefs in their Abstract of Principles distinguish them as Particular or Regular Baptists, with strong “hyper-Calvinism” elements in their theology. Within five years of the beginning of the church, the Ochlocknee, Suwanee River, and Alabaha River Associations had separated from other Baptist associations in the state over the issue of missions. This split led to the formation of two different denominations, one of which was the anti-missionary Primitive Baptists. This would be Fellowship’s primary association.
The church continued a slow but steady growth through the nineteenth century, but by the 1890s they began to lose members with the arrival of the railroads and access to employment opportunities elsewhere. Beginning in 1924, and lasting for fourteen years, “[T]he church perhaps suffered the greatest trials. Satan entered strongly into the midst,” according to Elder E.B. Seckinger, a Fellowship minister who later wrote a brief history of the church. There is no indication in the record of the nature of this conflict. It could have been the lingering effects of the Progressive movement of the 1890s, when some argued for the loosening of their strict theology and ritual. It could have been the start of the foot washing controversy of the 1930s. Or it could have been something else entirely, a conflict over some long forgotten issue. Whatever the source of the disagreement, the result was that a year after Elder T.J. Moran was ordained to the ministry and assumed the pastoral leadership of Fellowship in 1929, the doors of the church closed and remained so for eight years.
In 1938, Elder Seckinger stepped into the pulpit and the church reopened “to the rejoicing of the little God-fearing flock” of the nine remaining members. The official Minutes of Fellowship record the details of every church conference through 1981. They prayed, worshiped, and served for another sixty years with little noted influence from the outside world and no remarkable upheaval that compared to the tumult of the 1930s. The church was finally shuttered in the 1990s. Elder Pounce Burns was the last pastor before it closed and its remaining members scattered. He is interred in the cemetery behind the church with generations of Fellowship members. For over a hundred and fifty years a group of faithful in Shiloh preserved what they believed to be the teachings of Jesus and the practices of early Christians. The Fellowship Church building remains as a testament to their ministry and service.
Be sure to click and scroll the photos below for more information on Fellowship Primitive Baptist.
As you saw the exterior photo and read its caption, Fellowship Primitive Baptist is presently suffering hard times. The church was shuttered in the late 1990’s and little exterior maintenance has been done since then. Most damaging is the fact that the roof has begun to leak in several places. In this interior photo shot from the rear pews toward the chancel and pulpit area, water damage is clearly seen in the ceiling and beneath the molding along the wall, pulpit right. On the other hand, the sanctuary remains relatively clean. All the furniture is in place, no trash or piles of abandoned hymnals and other texts are to be found. Yet, we have no information of continuing activity at Fellowship Baptist. This is a mystery we hope to solve and report to you soon.
This view from the side, pulpit right, again presents what appears to be an active church. The floor is clean, the offertory plate sits on the communion table ready to be picked up and passed through the congregation! On the piano, a hymnal rests on its stand waiting for the accompanist to arrive.
We have little information on when this building was erected. We have been told that it could have been erected in the mid 19th century after the separation of the Primitive Baptists into two denominations. Fellowship chose to become part of the anti-missionary group and likely built its own church at that time. In this view, we can see that this sanctuary is designed in a style popular in the era. This photo presents a rectangular, wood frame structure whose two entrances are on the long side of the church. Here we see those two open doors on the left and right. The right side is the main entrance and also where the porch is located. Many mid-19th century Primitive Baptist churches throughout Georgia present this design.
This old church probably started out as a rude rectangular, wood structure with wooden shutters. Then, it was later probably modified and upgraded after the Civil War, the 1880’s-90’s?, when the area was more populated. The 3-4” pine floors appear to be from the early period. The walls and ceiling appear to have been of wood later covered with paint. The pews and other wooden furniture, with the exception of the pulpit, are machine made and of a later era. The porch and front entry are later additions as well.
In this shot we get a chance to better see and understand the different eras of the sanctuary’s appearance and configuration. The earliest era is presented by the old heart pine flooring. On that old floor rest manufactured pews probably from the early or middle 20th century. The walls show signs of restoration and covering/painting of earlier wooden wall boards. The window frames and sills of mixed flat boards and planed wood along with single pane aluminum and clear glass interior framing represent (20th century) products available through many eras. In all cases, the church was doing what it thought best for its congregation.
Though an uncareful eye could describe this view as benign, the water stains along the length of the back wall and additional stains at the mid-ceiling area indicate that the leaking roof is dripping water into the entire attic area. Unless this water intrusion is stopped soon, the church building is doomed. We hope that by bringing this situation to attention, those who care about this old church will step forward and take steps to stop the eminent demise of their church.
This stately, late 19th-early 20th upright piano is similar to many often found in these old rural churches. Congregational and choir singing was an integral element of almost every denomination in rural Georgia. For the record, these pianos are also usually the last items to be pilfered from abandoned sites. Why??? Because their cast iron frames can weigh between 250-500 pounds.
This is a close-up of the hymnal found on Fellowship’s piano. Non-denominational Hymnals like this were needed for most historic rural churches we document. This one, “The Pilgrim’s Hymnal”, was a best seller along with many more throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in Georgia.
This marker is for Zachariah T. Bonner born March 26, 1847, died January 1, 1930, and his wife, Carrie A. Moran Bonner, born 1846, died 1931. Zachariah T. Bonner was the youngest child of Richard Bonner. A letter dated August 18, 1864 from Richard Bonner to Gov. Joseph E. Brown urged the Governor to exempt his youngest son, Zachariah, from service in the Confederate Army. He explained he had four sons and a son-in-law who had served almost from the beginning of the war. He stated Zachariah was carried to the army under the last call for enrollees and was now in ditches near Atlanta. He was 16 years of age.
The middle marker of the three in the foreground is for William D. Moran. He was born September 19, 1842 and died October 17, 1908. He married Emily M. Middlebrook on December 4, 1866. He was a private in Company E, 2 Georgia State Troops during the Civil War. His Confederate Pension application states he was shot through the palm of his left hand in a battle near Atlanta on July 28, 1864. The wound rendered his left hand essentially useless.
The first cemetery slab in the foreground is for Arthur Meadows. He was born January 8, 1844 and died December 15, 1895. He married Elizabeth McDaniel October 26, 1876. He was the oldest child of Seaborn and Rebecca Pollard McDaniel. He is shown in census records as a farm laborer.
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Thank you for sharing the story of this little church. I have been doing research for my fiancé Jack and discovered that Creed Caldwell is his 4th great grandfather. ?
That hymn book is really special. What beautiful pictures. M
The building appears to be well-kept and maintained considering that it no longer houses an active congregation. Is it available as a venue for special events such as weddings?
I would think so. The contact is Kelly Moran at 706-457-2163.
I have always thought growing up and observed in Primitive Baptist Churches when I attended funerals that pianos were a “no no” and no instrumental music was allowed with only acappela singing. This may have been some of the controversy in the church mentioned in the write-up. Primitive Baptists seem to be a dying breed in today’s world.
No pianos were and still are the rule for some hard shell Primitive Baptists. Others allow it.